Fjords and the Fatherland: Exploring the Norwegian Western Coast

Fjords and the Fatherland: Exploring the Norwegian Western Coast

the past few years, my father, James, and I have taken a
few days to explore the Western Isles each time I return home to
Drawing on his experience as a landscape photographer, this year we
cast our net wider by venturing to
. With
heritage and a rose-tinted view of life in the
darkest reaches of the northern hemisphere, my expectations are

With the intention of exploring the western coastline, we begin
our drive in Oslo.
A powerful wind sweeps through the city on the day we arrive, but
that doesn’t stop the paddle-boarders and swimmers beneath Astrup
Fearnley Museum. As we step into their private collection for a
glimpse of Damien Hirst’s butterflies, the cerulean depths linger
only a few metres below. It’s difficult to imagine a more
captivating space for contemporary art.

A few hours later, I am entranced by the sight of the Oslo Opera
House, submerged in the tidal Bjørvika peninsula like a beautiful
shipwreck. You can lie across 18,000 square metres of
“La Facciata” marble to feel the warmth of the sun and
watch athletic Norwegians diving from floating sauna huts into the
waves. Designed by Snøhetta, the architecture blends with the
environment as the glass reflects the impetuous mood of the skies

Once our appetite for culture is satiated, Vippa is the place to
eat. A disused sugar warehouse at the edge of Vippetangen has been
converted into a food market where you’ll find fresh Syrian
shawarma, Peruvian
ceviche, and everything in between. It’s a gathering place for the
community where graffiti artists, musicians and chefs have created
a joyful, inclusive atmosphere. From the salt shakers up, they
don’t compromise on detail.

The following morning, we drive for five hours to the iconic
Stegastein viewpoint, which juts out 30 metres from the mountain
and overlooks both the opalescent Aurlandsvangen and Aurlandsfjord
650 metres below. The design by Todd Saunders and Tommie Wilhelmsen
was commissioned by the Norwegian Highway Department in an effort
to establish tourist routes. The sight is breathtaking – a brave
work of architecture aligned with nature.

Continuing on our journey to Fjærland in Sogndal the roads
become more challenging. As well as Sufjan Stevens and Michael
Kiwanuka, we listen to our friend Charlie Gladstone’s Maverick
podcast. A poignant line is: “kindness is a competitive advantage”
– and that’s exactly the
approach to hospitality. At the peaceful Fjærland
Fjordstove Hotel we smell rye bread baking in the early hours and
every reading corner overlooks the emerald fjord with copies of
nautical charts and Norwegian folktales within reach.

We borrow bikes, which they had repaired for us, and discover
community libraries charmingly built into road signs and telephone
boxes. Likewise, honesty boxes contain organic vegetables and so
the love-thy-neighbour culture of Fjærland continues to enchant us.
This feels all the more profound when exploring the striking
Norwegian Glacier Museum, which was designed by Sverre Fehn. The
devastating effects of climate change on their neighbouring
Jostedalsbreen glacier are a haunting reminder of dark times

As our journey takes us further up the coast, I fall in and out
of sleep and am disorientated when we arrive at Refviksanden beach.
It looks like the
Isle of Skye
, but the water is turquoise and the sand is as
white as snow. The landscapes aren’t wildly dissimilar from

– they are simply wilder. We unwrap yet more rye bread
and smoked salmon, our skin glowing as we inhale the clean air
beneath the windswept cliffs.

Our last stop is Sagafjord, where we spend a peaceful afternoon
on the deck. I re-read The Serious Game, a romance by Hjalmar
Söderberg set in Sweden, which first evoked the lure of
Scandinavian life. That was combined with a series of WB Yeats
poems such as The Lake Isle of Innisfree, which inspired a closer
interest in cabins.
Again, we ride bicycles along the fjord and observe local fisherman
at work on the water. A spectral bloom of jellyfish is a reminder
that most of the 1,190 fjords in Norway are connected to the

The Sagafjord Hotel may lack
charm, but it is undeniably functional. As with
everywhere we stay, the hotel is on the water, and I fall asleep
beneath the silvery lilacs of a pearly, nocturnal sky. I can always
remember my dreams, but tonight there is a lucidity which the
Norwegian air and the mysticism of near-perpetual daylight seem to
create over the course of our journey.

A wild Scottish upbringing has left me torn between the intrigue
of urban life and a longing to return to nature. Until now, I’ve
struggled with a sense of imbalance, but Norway offers a
compromise. Their emphasis on community, design and sustainability
complements a beautiful environment, which is as stimulating as it
is challenging. I had imagined expansive landscapes and therefore
expansive thinking and was grateful to find that we did make time
for the meaningful conversations, which can be forgotten in
everyday life.

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